Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lost in Translation

"What's polenta?"

When you sit with a table of Food and Nutrition students (including a food blogger, no less) over a lunch period, you will inevitably hear a great amount of gastronomic banter being thrown about. This is even more the case if you happen to be sitting with my table of friends, as each one of us is from a different country and style of upbringing, and we're all different ages. Now, the question of what polenta was was raised by my good friend Johana as we were discussing gluten-free menu options one afternoon. Given the fact she's Columbian, it wasn't exactly an unusual one for her to ask, but her response to our explanation of it as a cooked cornmeal porridge-type of dish threw us all a little bit of a curveball.

"Okay, but what's cornmeal? I don't understand."

Obviously more than just a description needed to be given... and between us three other foodies we came up with a variety of preparation methods that we enjoyed the versatile grain (including my favourite - chilled slabs of leftover cooked polenta broiled crunchy and topped with spicy tomato-mushroom sauce). For a more practical tool (not to mention an excuse to try out our recipes for herself) I announced that the next day we had classes together I would bring her some of her very own cornmeal to play around with and taste on her own. One of my other friends - Princess - is bringing leftover polenta for her next time she makes it for dinner, and I'm fairly sure Sabrina will be cooking some up next time the two are noshing at her place.

Being the white-bread, sweet-tooth possessing creature I am, I'm most familiar with cornmeal in it's bready incarnation. Unlike a lot of other Northerners (and many U.S. reader will be able to back me up on this stereotype I'm sure... right?) I like the savoury, cast-iron fired "traditional Southern" style of cornbread just as much as the sweet, cakey kind you usually get up here. Heck, my mom has stories of me as a toddler in South Carolina eating a whole basket of the stuff in one go when we vacationed way back when. But like I said, I do have Northern roots - which is why this kind of corny cake appealed to me.

Like most recipes I make, this one did stem from another, previously written formula... in this case one written by Nicole (sautegrillfryfunnygirl) called "Sweet Vanilla Cornbread" that I came across on FoodBuzz. Cutting down the fat, eliminating the eggs and tossing in an over-ripe banana later brought this creation into being - golden, super-moist, perfectly sweet and definitely full of corn and vanilla flavour!

Ban-Illa Cornmeal Cake
Serves 12
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 large over-ripe banana, mashed
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2 tbsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
  3. Add banana, buttermilk and vanilla to the dry ingredients.
  4. Stir briefly, then pour the oil over the batter.
  5. Stir just until all the ingredients are moistened, yet thoroughly blended; take care not to overmix.
  6. Bake until tests done, about 45 - 50 minutes.
  7. Let cool in the pan 15 minutes, then unmould onto a rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 180.5
Total Fat: 5.4 g
Cholesterol: 1.1 mg
Sodium: 32.7 mg
Total Carbs: 31.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 3.2 g


  1. I've used cornmeal to make pancakes but haven't tried to make corn bread. I think I've only tried it once. Thanks for sharing your recipe, I'll have to try it sometime and keep an eye open for restaurants serving vegan versions.

  2. My family and I have never tried cake-like cornbread. Usually we have the "traditional Southern" style of cornbread you mentioned (delicious with barbecued baked beans). Your recipe looks delicious. I'm certain my kids would like this one. Thanks!


Thanks for the feedback!